Compact coupé: CR-Z

Road test: Honda CR-Z Sport


Honda’s CR-Z is a car which we have been intending to try for a while but somehow just never got round to.  After seeing it at the 2010 Paris motor show, its funky dash all lit-up in blue, it appeared to offer a different and welcome slant on the virtuous hybrid.  Finally, we slotted the gently revised 2013 version (new grill plus a tad more power) into our test car diary and have put a few miles on it.

The CR-Z carries some design cues from other cars in the Honda stable, most notably the split rear window from the more humble Civic.  It has compact dimensions and sits reasonably low – a proper 2+2.  My almost-six-year-old with bulky Britax car seat doesn’t have much space at all in the back but up-front, everything is in proportion for fully-sized humans.  Considering the sleek design, the boot isn’t bad, either.  In fact, it might have been worth sacrificing a couple of inches for those any rear passengers.

Let the electronic wizardry do its thing

The CR-Z isn’t about carrying passengers, though – it is an interesting execution of a sports coupé with hybrid drive-train.  On the road, the petrol-electric combination drive is quite seamless.  It is a compromise, so it doesn’t carry too many batteries to affect the overall weight; the flip side is that the batteries supplement the petrol-powered propulsion rather than offer a periodic substitute.  The electric motor is cleverly integrated into the standard transmission so minimises additional weight and utilises the final drive.  Like other hybrids, I find that ignoring the displays indicating battery charge or drain is the most restful – just let the electronic wizardry do its thing.

There are some times when it is good to take control though.  Sport mode maximises the use of the electric motor in conjunction with the petrol engine to provide a combined output of 137 PS (and a useful 190 Nm torque).  Once charged, there is an indicator informing the driver that there’s a boost to be had for a quick dash of extra power – unleashed using the S+ button on the steering wheel.  True, it’s no out-and-out sports car but with the electric motor complimenting the engine, the car always feels on the boil – notably at low revs.  Switching to sport mode makes a positive difference around throttle response (literally tugging forward if switched-on while holding part throttle). This eagerness made covering the miles a painless experience.  Where the CR-Z falls short in terms of driving pleasure is with the steering feedback – or lack of it.  There’s a very similar sensation whether one is bowling along on a piece of straight dual carriage-way or pushing hard through bends.  With the regenerative braking, the action from the brake pedal can feel a touch grabby but it shaves-off speed well-enough.

Lack of rear visibility

While the strong styling is striking from the outside, opening the long doors reveals there is no shortage of drama inside.  Immediately, one is taken with those dramatic blue instruments and varying-coloured ring around the central, digital speed display (green for driving frugally, blue for heavier-footed moments and red for sport mode).  Allow one’s eyes to stray from the spaceship display over to the left and the crinkly finish of the plastic around the radio seems crude and the radio display, with its 14-segment characters looks a touch 1990s.  The geometry works well, though, and even the arrangement of the heating and ventilation controls in a circle is all very intuitive.  For all the superficial wackiness, it is simple to use and all the controls fall easily to hand.  The downside of the external shape is the significant lack of rear visibility.  The angle of the C-pillars and the strut separating the horizontal and vertical boot glass means it is hard to manoeuvre backwards – or indeed gauge approaching speed of cars from behind.  That said, I have honed my skills at identifying following cars by their front valances alone.

The CR-Z is available in two trims: Sport and GT.  The Sport is a fraction quicker in its acceleration while the GT carries some extra kit.  (There’s also a T-suffixed version of both trim levels with sat-nav and blue-tooth.)  Interestingly, the slightly cheaper Sport also has the lower CO2 figure, apparently down to wheel size.  Reasonable CO2 emissions aside, the promised economy wasn’t forthcoming; admittedly not trying particularly hard, I managed just mid 40s mpg – and the small tank meant I had to visit a couple of filling stations by the end of the week.

We made friends with the CR-Z while it has been here at Motor Writer – even my son hasn’t complained about lack of space in the back.  What I did notice while driving it was an absence of any others around, which surprised me given the striking looks.  It isn’t a car for the track day but very useable on the public highway.  The hybrid drive is almost incidental – which is exactly as it should be.  And at just a whisker over 20 grand, it offers something a little different for fairly modest money.

Honda CR-Z Sport £20,550 (plus £450 for the pearlescent paint on our test car)

Power: 121 PS (+20 PS from motor), torque: 146 Nm (+78 Nm from motor), emissions: 116 g/km CO2 (band C), 0-62 mph: 9.1 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○


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